A few weeks ago, I finally met--in person, in real life!--my adopt-a-blogger mentor, Kristen, of Dine and Dish. And I have to say, that, in meeting Kristen, I think I've met one of the nicest and sweetest people on the face of this earth. Seriously.
Kristen was here in the Bay Area as part of the massive convergence of food bloggers for the San Francisco BlogHer Food 2010 conference. (I kept having a mental image of that scene in Little House on the Prairie where locusts descend upon the homestead--not that I'm comparing food bloggers to locusts! It was just that descent in droves that it reminded me of.) She took pity on the fact that I am a poor grad student who couldn't afford the time or money to go to the conference and managed to invite me to the parties that were going on concurrently instead, so that I could still participate in the hectic and amazing atmosphere of food-bloggery! (also, helloooo, parties.)
In short, it was all so. much. fun. Surprisingly so, I barely *ate* anything at either of the two parties I went to--instead, I was busy talking to and learning about and meeting all of these new people who are just as obsessed with food as I am. I started blogging before I followed or read any food blogs (consequently, I still don't know very many of you out there), so it was really eye-opening to see how many blogs and how many types of blogs there are. I don't think it's productive to list everyone I talked to or met here (since most of you probably don't remember me. -.-), but let me just say that, judging from the sample that I did meet, food bloggers are a wonderful breed and, like Kristen, some of the nicest and most hilarious people I've ever known.
Then, at one the parties, the most crazy and ridiculous thing happened. I say "crazy" and "ridiculous" because this stuff never happens to me. As I was standing around, chatting with some of my fellow Bay Area food bloggers, Irvin (aka: Mr. JackHonky) nudged me and exclaimed, "Isn't that your business card they're holding?!" Then in my extreme confusion, I heard my blog name called out from the front of the room. Then, I was walking up to the front, people were telling me my name had been drawn for something, ushering me over towards the front door. (Heck, for all I could have known, I was being kicked out of the party!) Anyways, it turned out that I was walking out the door that night with a brand new, cobalt-blue, gawh-geous Le Creuset set. Now, I call this crazy and ridiculous because (1) my once-impoverished graduate student kitchen now has cookware! Yay!, and (2) I never win anything! I think the last thing I've ever won was a stuffed dog on Valentine's Day in fifth grade (yes, I remember that moment vividly as well). I credit Kristen, though--the girl has amazing luck! She
walked flew home with a brand new Kitchenaid mixer, so I think she somehow managed to rub some of her luck off on me. :-)
Anyways, so here I am, with cookware that actually properly conducts and retains heat (hallelujah!), amongst which are these adorable mini cocottes that I'd been lusting after every time I walked into Sur la Table. And for some reason, I knew that the first thing I wanted to make in them had to involve mini forelle pears. Yeah, don't ask me why--my mind just works in mysterious, obsessive ways like that. So here it is, the maiden voyage of these awesome little bakers: cognac-caramel, pecan, and pear pudding cakes.
Eating these pudding cakes, I seriously felt as if, in the infamous words of Paula Deen, I was gonna be arrested. Allow me to demonstrate by listing some of the ingredients packed into this little cake:
cognac, caramel, cinnamon, brown butter, toasted pecans, brown sugar, spice-poached pearsNeed I honestly say more?! These warm-from-the-oven cakes start with an incredibly aromatic, nutty, and textured cake on top, thanks to the toasted and ground pecans, and progresses through the vanilla-spiced fruity center of a poached pear, down through a layer of dense, moist, and incredibly earthy and rustic brown butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon pudding cake, and finally hits the bottom with a thin layer of aromatically boozy, dark, and perfectly salty-sweet caramel sauce soaking its way from the bottom of the cake upwards. I took great pains to lick every last bit of the mini cocotte and my spoon at the end of this
Before I go and dig in to another one of these cakes (someone--please stop me! come eat them so that I won't!), I want to thank the hosts of the two wonderful food blogger parties I went to. Thank you to Jane, Helene, Stefania, and Kristen (for La Petite Soiree), and thank you to Jaden, Elise, and Ree (for the BlogHer Food closing party)! You gals sure to know how to throw parties. :-) And lastly (but definitely not least), a huge thank you and shout-out to the best adopt-a-blogger mentor, like, ever-- Kristen, whom I am so glad I could finally meet in person! *waves 'hi' from across the country* Wish you were here to share these caramel pear pudding cakes with me!
Read on for recipe....
Cognac-Caramel, Pecan, and Pear Pudding Cake
makes six 8-oz. servings
for poached pears:
3 cups water
2 Tbspn sugar
1 vanilla bean
1/2 tspn cloves
1 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
6 mini pears
1. In a small pot, combine the water, sugar, and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer.
2. Meanwhile, peel the pears and hollow out the seeds using a melon baller from the bottom end.
3. Poach the pears in the simmering water until fork tender all the way through, about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pears.
4. Remove the pears from the liquid and set aside.
for cognac caramel:
2 Tbspn butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 tspn coarse salt
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup cognac
1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
2. Once the butter is melted, add the brown sugar and coarse salt. Cook until the sugar has melted.
3. Slowly add the water to the sugar and bring to a bowl. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes.
4. Remove from heat and add the cognac. Set aside.
for pudding cake:
6 Tbspn butter
2 oz. pecans, toasted and finely ground
1 cup AP flour
2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn salt
1 1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup milk
1 tspn vanilla extract
powdered sugar, optional
heavy cream, optional
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a small saucepan with a light-colored bottom, melt the butter. Cook over medium heat until the solids in the butter drop to the bottom and brown. Remove from heat and set aside. Solids will continue to brown as it sits.
3. Combine the ground toasted pecans, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together lightly beaten eggs and brown sugar. Add the milk and vanilla extract. Mix to combine. Slowly add the brown butter, making sure to incorporate it fully into the liquid.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two stages, combining thoroughly. Do not overmix.
6. Divide the batter amongst the six ramekins/mini cocottes. Pour the cognac caramel over the batter, diving amongst the six ramekins. Place a single poached pear in the center of each ramekin, pressing down into the batter. Batter should reach the near the top brim of the cocotte.
7. Bake for ~30 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are dry and a toothpick insert 3/4 of the way in the cake comes out cleanly. Remove from oven and let cool at least five minutes before serving.
8. Serve with a light dusting of powdered sugar or heavy cream.
Recipe inspired and very roughly adapted from seven spoons and Bill Granger.